Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Southern Australia penguin population falls dramatically

Updated Thu Dec 13, 2012 
A census of little penguins on South Australia's Kangaroo Island has revealed the number of breeding adult birds has fallen by about a quarter in the past year. Debate is raging about what's behind the population drop, with some locals blaming the growing number of New Zealand fur seals.

Source: The World Today 

EMILY BOURKE: A census of little penguins on South Australia's Kangaroo Island has revealed some disturbing figures: the number of breeding adult birds has fallen by about a quarter in the past year.

Debate is raging about what's behind the population drop, with some locals blaming the growing number of New Zealand fur seals.

Clare Hesketh reports.

CLARE HESKETH: The latest count shows that in the past 12 months, penguin numbers have plunged from just over 1,300 last year to about 960 this year.
In Penneshaw, the colony has almost halved.
Counts have been done at Kingscote since 2006 and numbers there are estimated to have dropped by more than a third in the six year period.
Danny Brock is a marine scientist with the South Australian Environment Department.
He says the figures are concerning, but not surprising.

DANNY BROCK: We have been losing mainland penguin colonies over the last 20 to 30 years across southern Australia, and now also some of the offshore islands have been experiencing decline.

CLARE HESKETH: Mr Brock says commercial fishing, coastal development and climate change have put pressure on the penguins.
It's thought predators such as cats and New Zealand fur seals are also hitting numbers.
Ikuko Tomo from the South Australian Museum has been studying dead penguins found onshore on Kangaroo Island for the past two and a half years.
She's received about 100 specimens in that time.

IKUKO TOMO: Primary cause of the death is trauma but some animals have got some infected bug parasite. But most of the animals more look like possibly predation, but some of them are killed by the traffic accident.

CLARE HESKETH: The Kingscote Penguin Centre has been vocal in blaming rising New Zealand fur seal numbers for much of the penguin decline.
At last count, there were just over 36,000 of the seals on the island.
Danny Brock says that's expected to increase by about 10 per cent a year for the next decade, partly due to the species' recovery from the end of commercial sealing in the late 1800s.
But he rejects the Penguin Centre's claims.

DANNY BROCK: They are a pressure on penguin populations, but can we say how much they're doing it and are they solely responsible for the declines, no we're not in a position to say that yet.

CLARE HESKETH: The local Liberal MP, Michael Pengilly says it would be a major blow to the industry if the attraction was no longer there.

MICHAEL PENGILLY: The numbers of penguins at Penneshaw have virtually disappeared and at Kingscote, the numbers are declining. So clearly international visitors in particular who like to look at the penguins and their activities are struggling to find them.

CLARE HESKETH: But Danny Brock is hopeful that little penguin numbers on the island will eventually bounce back.

DANNY BROCK: I mean if we implement some of the management issues we need to, then definitely. I mean Phillip Island is the classic example of penguin numbers recovering when a number of coastal issues have been dealt with. So I guess it will be watch this space.

CLARE HESKETH: Any future island-wide counts are dependent on more community funding or financial help from the State Government.

EMILY BOURKE: Clare Hesketh with that report.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Little penguin colony viability impacted by Leeuwin current change

Sunday, 02 December 2012

fairy penguinDr Cannell notes that one of the most important findings of the study was of the correlation between higher sea surface temperatures around April and reduced breeding performance. Image: WhatsallthisthenA RECENT study has found links between environmental conditions and breeding performance in a colony of Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) near Rockingham.

Researchers have correlated the strength of the Leeuwin Current and timing of breeding of the colony on Penguin Island, as well as a link between sea surface temperature and breeding success.

The correlation is linked to a decrease in many species of fish that Little Penguins feed on.

Murdoch University Research Associate Dr Belinda Cannell says, “When there’s a strong Leeuwin Current in the summer prior to breeding, the [penguin’s] laying will end up finishing later.”

Delayed laying is dangerous for the health of the colony.

“The later they lay in the season, the less likely they are to successfully raise those chicks because it’s moving into the times they have to moult,” Dr Cannell explains.

Little Penguins are unable to hunt for food during moulting as they are without waterproof feathers.
Later laying times also make for increased mortality rates due to higher temperatures.

“It also means they’re raising chicks when the terrestrial temperatures are getting very hot, so there’s an increased chance of chicks dying,” she says.

Dr Cannell notes that one of the most important findings of the study was of the correlation between higher sea surface temperatures around April and reduced breeding performance.

“The chicks were lighter when they fledged; there were fewer chicks per pair, fewer eggs actually hatched and fewer eggs resulting in successful fledglings”, she says.

A correlation was also found between breeding success and environmental conditions in the winter months of the previous year.

“When the sea surface temperature and the Leeuwin Current were stronger in the year prior to breeding, the laying of the eggs will be earlier in the year.

“The earlier they lay, the more likely they are to lay two clutches, the healthier the chicks are and the more likely they are to survive.”

The analysis uses data from between 1986 and 2008, with various measures of breeding performance being compared to oceanographic data to develop statistical models. These models are then tested against new data from 2009 to 2011.

Dr Cannell says the study is valuable as one of few long-term data sets nationwide for marine fauna, describing the penguins as “ideal sentinels of climate change.”

She says the colony of Little Penguins is an excellent way of evaluating changes to the environmental system as a whole.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

For Some Feathered Dinosaurs, Bigger Not Always Better


This scale illustration shows size of feathered theropod herbivores compared to humans. (Credit: Lindsay Zanno, NC State and NC Museum of Natural Sciences)
ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2012) — Every kid knows that giant carnivores like Tyrannosaurus rex dominated the Cretaceous period, but they weren't the only big guys in town. Giant plant-eating theropods -- close relatives of both T. rex and today's birds -- also lived and thrived alongside their meat-eating cousins. Now researchers have started looking at why dinosaurs that abandoned meat in favor of vegetarian diets got so big, and their results may call conventional wisdom about plant-eaters and body size into question.

Scientists have theorized that bigger was better when it came to plant eaters, because larger digestive tracts would allow dinosaurs to maximize the nutrition they could extract from high-fiber, low-calorie food. Therefore, natural selection may have favored increasing body sizes in groups of animals that went meatless.

Three groups of giant feathered theropods from the Cretaceous period seemed to follow that rule of thumb -- the biggest specimens were also the plant-eaters. Lindsay Zanno, research assistant professor of biology at North Carolina State University and director of the Paleontology & Geology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and Peter Makovicky, associate curator of paleontology at the Field Museum in Chicago, decided to see if diet was the determining factor when it came to size. Makovicky notes that "Having three closely related lineages of dinosaurs adapting to herbivory over the same geological time span and showing evidence of increasing size provided a near perfect test case."

Zanno and Makovicky estimated body mass for 47 extinct species of feathered dinosaur, representing three major groups that abandoned a strictly meat-eating diet -- ornithomimosaurs ("bird-mimics"), oviraptorosaurs ("egg-thieves"), and the bizarre therizinosaurs ("scythe-lizards"). Most species in these lineages also possessed a toothless beak, three-toed feet, and shorter tails than your average dinosaur, making them look a lot like modern birds.

All three groups evolved gigantic proportions: the largest oviraptorosaur weighed over 7,000 pounds, and the biggest ornithomimosaurs and therizinosaurs topped out at over 13,000 pounds. "The largest feathered dinosaurs were more than 100 times more massive than your average person," says Zanno. "The reality is that for most of us, it is downright difficult to imagine a feathered animal of gigantic proportions."

The researchers also found that average body mass did increase in these groups over time (on average, the earliest members were smallest and the last species to evolve were among the largest). But this simple correlation didn't indicate whether large size was an evolutionary advantage.
To test whether these groups were being driven to get bigger by natural selection, Zanno and Makovicky fitted different evolutionary models to the data, looking to see which model best described the patterns of body mass from ancestor species to descendant species. They found that these theropod groups were experimenting with different body masses as they evolved, with some getting bigger, while others were getting smaller. In short, there was no clear-cut drive to get big -- size seemed to provide no overwhelming advantage during the evolution of these animals.
The researchers' results appear in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Results of our study don't rule out diet as affecting body mass, but do seem to indicate that fluctuating environmental conditions over time were trumping the benefit of becoming a giant," Zanno says. "The long and short of it is that for plant-eating theropods, bigger wasn't always better."
"Where resources permitted, these animals could get as big as elephants, but that clearly was not the case in all environments and time periods," says Makovicky. "Factors such as resource abundance and competition with other herbivores likely played a more significant role." He added that uneven sampling in the fossil record, such as preferential preservation of smaller species in earlier time periods and larger species in later ones, could also impact the results.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by North Carolina State University.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. L. E. Zanno, P. J. Makovicky. No evidence for directional evolution of body mass in herbivorous theropod dinosaurs. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2012; 280 (1751): 20122526 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2526

North Carolina State University (2012, November 27). For some feathered dinosaurs, bigger not always better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/11/121128093254.htm

Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Evidence On Dinosaurs' Role in Evolution of Bird Flight

An artist’s impression of what the Archaeopteryx lithographica would have looked like in flight. (Credit: Image by artist Carl Buel)
ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2012) — A new study looking at the structure of feathers in bird-like dinosaurs has shed light on one of nature's most remarkable inventions -- how flight might have evolved.

Academics at the Universities of Bristol, Yale and Calgary have shown that prehistoric birds had a much more primitive version of the wings we see today, with rigid layers of feathers acting as simple airfoils for gliding.
Close examination of the earliest theropod dinosaurs suggests that feathers were initially developed for insulation, arranged in multiple layers to preserve heat, before their shape evolved for display and camouflage.

As evolution changed the configuration of the feathers, their important role in the aerodynamics and mechanics of flight became more apparent. Natural selection over millions of years ultimately modified dinosaurs' forelimbs into highly-efficient, feathered wings that could rapidly change its span, shape and area -- a key innovation that allowed dinosaurs to rule the skies.

This basic wing configuration has remained more or less the same for the past 130 million years, with bird wings having a layer of long, asymmetrical flight feathers with short covert feathers on top. They are able to separate and rotate these flight feathers to gain height, change direction and even hover.

This formation allows birds to move in such a way as to produce both lift and thrust simultaneously -- a capability that man, with the help of technology, is still trying to successfully imitate.

The research, published November 21 in Current Biology, looked at the dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi and the Jurassic bird Archaeopteryx lithographica. The latter is 155 million years old and widely considered to be the earliest known bird, presenting a combination of dinosaur and bird characteristics.

Their wings differed from modern day birds in being composed of multiple layers of long feathers, appearing to represent early experiments in the evolution of the wing. Although individual feathers were relatively weak due to slender feather shafts, the layering of these wing feathers is likely to have produced a strong airfoil.

The inability to separate feathers suggests that taking off and flying at low speeds may have been limited, meaning that wings were primarily used in high-speed gliding or flapping flight.

Dr Jakob Vinther, from the University of Bristol's Schools of Biological and Earth Sciences, said: "We are starting to get an intricate picture of how feathers and birds evolved from within the dinosaurs. We now seem to see that feathers evolved initially for insulation. Later in evolution, more complex vaned or pinnate feathers evolved for display.

"These display feathers turned out to be excellent membranes that could have been utilised for aerial locomotion, which only very late in bird evolution became what we consider flapping flight. This new research is shedding light not just on how birds came to fly, but more specifically on how feathers came to be the way they are today -- one of the most amazing and highly specialised structures in nature."

Dr Nicholas Longrich of Yale University added: "By studying fossils carefully, we are now able to start piecing together how the wing evolved. Before, it seemed that we had more or less modern wings from the Jurassic onwards. Now it's clear that early birds were more primitive and represented transitional forms linking birds to dinosaurs. We can see the wing slowly becoming more advanced as we move from Anchiornis, to Archaeopteryx, to later birds."

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Bristol.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. Nicholas R. Longrich, Jakob Vinther, Qingjin Meng, Quangguo Li, Anthony P. Russell. Primitive Wing Feather Arrangement in Archaeopteryx lithographica and Anchiornis huxleyi. Current Biology, 21 November 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.052

University of Bristol (2012, November 21). New evidence on dinosaurs' role in evolution of bird flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/11/121121130817.htm

Argentine experts from the Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata find giant penguin fossils in Antarctica

Previous finds from prehistoric penguins indicated they did not sport the iconic black and white 
feathers the birds are known for today, but had reddish-brown and gray plumage. Photo: Natural 
Sciences Museum of La Plata.

BUENOS AIRES (AFP).- Argentine experts have discovered the fossils of a two-meter (6.5 foot) tall 
penguin that lived in Antarctica 34 million years ago.

Paleontologists with the Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata province, where the capital Buenos 
Aires is located, said the remains were found on the icy southern continent.

"This is the largest penguin known to date in terms of height and body mass," said researcher Carolina 
Acosta, who noted that the record had been held by emperor penguins, which reach heights of 1.2 
meters (4 feet) tall.

Lead researcher Marcelo Reguero added that the find, announced Tuesday, will "allow for a more 
intensive and complex study of the ancestors of modern penguins."

In its next expedition to Antarctica, during the region's summer, the team will seek additional fossils 
of the newly discovered species, as well as information about its anatomy and how the giant penguin 
might have moved.

Previous finds from prehistoric penguins indicated they did not sport the iconic black and white 
feathers the birds are known for today, but had reddish-brown and gray plumage.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Emperor Penguins Need Sea Ice for Foraging

   Emperor penguins near the sea in Antarctica.
CREDIT: Katsufumi Sato, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo

 (Click image for much larger view)

Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer - Nov 21, 2012

Motion detectors mounted on emperor penguins have revealed that sea ice plays a critical role in the birds' long food odyssey.

Emperor penguins rely on sea ice for breeding and feeding. Shifting patterns of sea ice due to changing climate in the Antarctic could alter the penguin's behavior and ecology, said study author Shinichi Watanabe, an animal ecologist and professor at Fukuyama University in Hiroshima, Japan.
The Antarctic sea ice hit a record maximum this year, but the sea ice distribution around the continent is changing, while the penguins nest in the same place every year.

"If penguins don't stay on the ice during foraging trips, they may not be able to sustain such long trips," Watanabe told OurAmazingPlanet.

March to the sea

The image of thousands of penguins shuffling across the frigid Antarctic ice was immortalized in the film "March of the Penguins." Female emperor penguins trek 30 to 75 miles (50 to 120 kilometers) each way during chick-rearing season to bring back food for their young.

Emperor penguins spend more time foraging than any other penguin species, Watanabe said. "Emperor penguins are a unique ecology, because they are the largest species of penguins and they have the biggest and largest chicks, so they have to bring [a lot of] food," he said. "Also, the distance between the breeding colony and the foraging site is very long, so they need more food."

The ice helps the penguins gorge on food by providing short, safe rest breaks between long dives, Watanabe and his colleagues found. The results, based on 10 penguins from a colony at Cape Washington in the Ross Sea, were published online today (Nov. 21) in the journal PLoS Biology.

The relationship between sea ice conditions and emperor penguins' foraging has been unclear because of the difficulties of tracking the birds at sea, Watanabe said. To figure out how penguins behave once they reach the open ocean, the researchers used special probes that captured motion on land and underwater.

Safety in numbers

The first thing the animals do after their long walk is rest, the researchers found. After leaving the colony and arriving at the ice edge before the start of a foraging trip, the birds spent 3 hours to 38 hours waiting before making the first dive.

The researchers suspect that the long rests are a result of penguins waiting for others to form a group. Antarctic penguins prefer to dive in flocks, slipping into the water all at once from the ice edge. This could help lower the risk of a seal attack, as leopard seals eagerly await these group dives and there is safety in numbers. However, it's more likely that the phenomenon is simply a result of group behavior, the authors report in the study.

With 24 hours of sunlight, penguins dived continuously through day and night, spending up to two weeks foraging. They relied on the ice for rests between deep dives that lasted up to five hours (with quick breath breaks).



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Math Reveals Perfectly Cozy Penguin Huddles

Date: 16 November 2012
Penguins in a colony pack extremely tightly together, but still shuffle around without crushing anyone.
Penguins in a colony pack extremely tightly together, but still shuffle around without crushing anyone.
CREDIT: March of the Penguins (National Geographic film)

Greed is good for penguins that huddle together to avoid Antarctica's icy weather.
According to a new study, penguin groups can maximize everyone's heat when individual birds act selfishly, huddling in ways that keep them toastiest.

"Even if penguins are only selfish, only trying to find the best spot for themselves and not thinking about their community, there is still equality in the amount of time that each penguin spends exposed to the wind," study researcher Francois Blanchette, a mathematician at the University of California, Merced, who normally studies fluid dynamics, said in a statement.

Blanchette became interested in penguin huddles after watching the hit documentary "The March of the Penguins." He and his colleagues made mathematical models of penguin huddles, varying wind strength and turbulence to see what sort of shapes arose. The model calculated which penguin along the edge of the huddle would be coldest and had that penguin move toward the center of the huddle in a sort of constant rotation.

These models produced long, thin huddles that gradually crept away from the wind direction. In real life, penguin huddles are more rotund, so researchers went about making their models more realistic. They added an element of uncertainty, such as wind eddies and differences in size of the huddled penguins. The result was huddles that look much like those seen on real Antarctic ice.

"A penguin huddle is a self-sufficient system in which the animals rely on each other for shelter, and I think that is what makes it fair," Blanchette said. An obstacle to the ideal shape, such as a wall, would likely make the huddles less fair, he added.

Blanchette and his mathematician colleagues report their work today (Nov. 16) in the journal PLOS ONE, and will present the findings at the American Physical Society's fluid dynamic conference next week in San Diego. They hope to get feedback from biologists on their findings. The model may also help biologists refine their observations of penguins in the field by letting them know what behaviors to look for in huddles.

Blanchette also hopes the penguin study will help spread the word about his first love, math.
"Nearly everybody seems to love penguins, and not enough people love math," he said. "If we use math to study penguins, we could potentially teach more people to love math, too!"


Friday, November 16, 2012

Controversial Toronto Zoo Penguins Not Gay after All?

toronto zoo penguins What a difference a year makes. Last November, two male African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) living at the Toronto Zoo made worldwide headlines after they took more interest in each other than in members of the opposite sex.

Considering the penguins—Pedro and Buddy—were brought to the zoo for breeding purposes, it posed quite the conundrum for zookeepers who planned to separate the pair in hopes that attractive females would catch their eyes.

As I wrote last year, it wasn’t clear at the time if the penguins were truly homosexual or just lonely, but now we have an update. The planned separation, it seems, did the trick. Not only have Pedro and Buddy bonded with waiting females, they have gone ahead and mated. This week their mates laid six precious new eggs.

If the eggs hatch next month—which isn’t guaranteed—it will be an important success for the zoo’s effort to breed these endangered species (also known as black-footed penguins), which have experienced a 75 percent wild population drop over the past two decades. The zoo hatched three male penguins last year, all of which have survived.

This is actually Buddy’s second chance at fatherhood since last November. He and his mate Farai incubated and hatched two chicks in February, but neither survived. As the zoo wrote in a press release (pdf) at the time, “Mortality of chicks is high within the first three weeks after hatching with both wild and captive-bred penguins from any one of several factors such as predation, competition from other pairs, weather and the experience of the parents.”

Although Buddy and Pedro no longer act like a same-sex couple, two homosexual king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in Denmark’s Odense Zoo recently became parents after several years of cohabitation. A female penguin abandoned her egg and the two males stepped in to save it.
Zookeepers had previously noticed the males’ desire to be parents when the birds tried incubating dead herring and then tested their skills with a ball before a real egg became available. The birds took turns incubating the egg, which hatched last month. By all accounts, the chick is doing well.

Homosexuality in penguins has been observed in the wild, notably in king penguins. A 2010 study of the species found instances of males flirting with one another and male–male or female–female bonded pairs, although many broke up if more suitable opposite-sex mates turned up. A 2009 study published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution found that some species adapt to same-sex bonding in order to create more parenting roles. Homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,000 species.

Photo: African penguins at Toronto Zoo by Erica Peterson via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license


Friday, November 9, 2012

Two New Emperor Penguin Colonies in Antarctica

The first emperor penguin colony. (Credit: © Robin Cristofari/CNRS/Institut polaire français IPEV)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 8, 2012) — While about 2500 chicks of emperor penguins are raised this year at the colony close to the French Dumont d'Urville Station, two new colonies totalling 6000 chicks have just been observed about 250 km away, near Mertz Glacier by the scientists Dr André Ancel and Dr Yvon Ancel, from the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien in Strasbourg (CNRS and Université de Strasbourg). Since a pair of emperor penguins may only successfully raise one chick a year, the population of breeding emperor penguins in this area of the Antarctic can therefore be estimated to more than about 8500 pairs, about three fold that previously thought.

The two new colonies have been revealed on 1st and 2nd November, during the late winter season trip of the MSS Astrolabe1 towards Dumont d'Urville. They are located on the winter sea ice. This ice surrounds the remains of the Mertz Glacier, from which a large ice wall, 80 km long, 40 km wide and 300-400 m thick has separated. These may be two sub-populations originating from the initial Mertz colony which, following the Mertz Glacier break, are attempting to settle again on favorable surroundings. One accounts for about 2000 chicks and the second for about 4000 chicks.

Dr André Ancel had suspected the existence of an emperor penguin colony near the Mertz Glacier since 1999, when with Dr Barbara Wienecke (Australian Antarctic Division), they observed thousands of emperor penguins going back and forth in the Mertz glacier area. Dr Peter Fretwell and Dr Phil Trathan of the British Antarctic Survey localised this colony in 2009 based on the images from space of emperor penguin nitrogen dejections on the sea ice. However, the break of the Mertz glacier in 2010 questioned the fate of this colony. New satellite images obtained since then suggested that the birds might attempt breeding on different sites. Over the last 13 years all French attempts to find the birds had failed, due to the harsh winter conditions and the summer disappearance of the sea ice where the Emperors breed.

This year, the human, logistic and environmental conditions finally came together. The French Polar Institute (IPEV) then decided to modify the Astrolabe's route to enable Dr André Ancel and Dr Yvon Le Maho to find this population. A good climate window, the excellent knowledge of the environment by the IPEV logistic teams, the expert navigational skill of the Astrolabe crew in the ice and the essential helicopter support in such areas, have allowed for the success of this detection. The break of the Mertz Glacier had profoundly modified the environment into a chaos of small icebergs and sea ice. The French scientists discovered that the initial colony seen from space by their British colleagues had been split over two sites. The first, whose localisation had been recently indicated by the British, accounts for about 2000 chicks, whereas 4000 are being raised in the second. The second site was discovered by chance, 15 km from the first, while conducting a scientific helicopter survey.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS).
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) (2012, November 8). Two new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 9, 2012, from  http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/11/121108181439.htm

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The fight is not over for the Southern Ocean!

Today is a sad day for the Southern Ocean. CCAMLR’s (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) commitment to the global community to create large-scale marine reserves in the Southern Ocean was dishonoured today. We are deeply disappointed.

But rest assured the fight is not over. For the second time in thirty years, CCAMLR has agreed to hold a “special extraordinary” meeting in July to focus on reaching agreement on marine protection areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean. This special meeting would not have happened without your support. Failure will not be an option at the next meeting. We know that you and the rest of the world will be watching, and taking action.

We want to thank you for all of your support this year. Your effort is going to be critical to success in 2013. We will be back on board with plans bigger and better than ever to protect the Southern Ocean next week.

Stay tuned we will be right back!


© Antarctic Ocean Alliance 2011
info@antarcticocean.org | www.antarcticocean.org
Steve Campbell

(AOA Campagin Director) and the rest of the AOA team.
The AOA Team

Exhaustive Family Tree for Birds Shows Recent, Rapid Diversification

Analysis of the family tree shows when and where birds diversified — and that birds’ diversification rate has increased over the last 50 million years, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts. (Credit: Image courtesy of Yale University.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2012) — A Yale-led scientific team has produced the most comprehensive family tree for birds to date, connecting all living bird species -- nearly 10,000 in total -- and revealing surprising new details about their evolutionary history and its geographic context.

Analysis of the family tree shows when and where birds diversified -- and that birds' diversification rate has increased over the last 50 million years, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts.

"It's the first time that we have -- for such a large group of species and with such a high degree of confidence -- the full global picture of diversification in time and space," said biologist Walter Jetz of Yale, lead author of the team's research paper, published Oct. 31 online in the journal Nature.
He continued: "The research highlights how heterogeneously fast diversifying species groups are distributed throughout the family tree and over geographic space. Many parts of the globe have seen a variety of species groups diversify rapidly and recently. All this leads to a diversification rate in birds that has been increasing over the past 50 million years."

The researchers relied heavily on fossil and DNA data, combining them with geographical information to produce the exhaustive family tree, which includes 9,993 species known to be alive now.

"The current zeitgeist in biodiversity science is that the world can fill up quickly," says biologist and co-author Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University in Canada. "A new distinctive group, like bumblebees or tunafish, first evolves, and, if conditions are right, it quickly radiates to produce a large number of species. These species fill up all the available niches, and then there is nowhere to go. Extinction catches up, and things begin to slow down or stall. For birds the pattern is the opposite: Speciation is actually speeding up, not slowing down."

The researchers attribute the growing rate of avian diversity to an abundance of group-specific adaptations. They hypothesize that the evolution of physical or behavioral innovations in certain groups, combined with the opening of new habitats, has enabled repeated bursts of diversification. Another likely factor has been birds' exceptional mobility, researchers said, which time and again has allowed them to colonize new regions and exploit novel ecological opportunities.

In their analysis, the researchers also expose significant geographic differences in diversification rates. They are higher in the Western Hemisphere than in the Eastern, and higher on islands than mainlands. But surprisingly, they said, there is little difference in rates between the tropics and high latitudes. Regions of especially intense recent diversification include northern North American and Eurasia and southern South America.

"This was one of the big surprises," Jetz said. "For a long time biologists have thought that the vast diversity of tropical species must at least partly be due to greater rates of net species production there. For birds we find no support for this, and groups with fast and slow diversification appear to occur there as much as in the high latitudes. Instead, the answer may lie in the tropics' older age, leading to a greater accumulation of species over time. Global phylogenies like ours will allow further tests of this and other basic hypotheses about life on Earth."

Other authors are G.H. Thomas of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom; J.B. Joy of Simon Fraser University in Canada; and K. Hartmann of the University of Tasmania in Australia.
The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Natural Environment Research Council (U.K), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Simon Fraser University, and the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Yale University.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. W. Jetz, Thomas, G. H., Joy, J.B., Hartmann, K. & A.O. Mooers. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature, October 31, 2012

Yale University (2012, October 31). Exhaustive family tree for birds shows recent, rapid diversification. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/10/121031141906.htm 

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Peruvian Red Bellied Penguin


The Peruvian Red-bellied Penguin, one of the giant South American penguins, is easily recognizable for it's long beak and reddish-brown belly. It is more aggressive than usual for penguins, and it's big size (up to 1.5m) makes it a rather dangerous animal to handle.

PENGUIN PANIC: Is this volcano on Heard Island exploding?

  • Heard Island is a tiny speck of Australian territory near Antarctica
  • NASA says there are "signs of an eruption on Heard Island"
  • There is no one there, except for the penguins
Heard Island
Although not definitive, this NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon suggests an ongoing eruption. The dark summit crater is partially snow-free and the darker area could be lava flow within.
RELAX. Stay calm. Everything's almost certainly going to be OK. Unless you're a penguin. If you're a penguin, it may just pay to panic like hell. 

A volcano on Heard Island, a tiny uninhabited speck of Australian territory near Antarctica, may just be erupting.

It also may not be erupting. Nobody really knows. We contacted the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart this afternoon, and they didn’t know.

So why would we think that a massive volcano could this minute be spewing poisonous fumes across pristine penguin colonies?

One word: NASA.

The US government space agency has a website called NASA Visible Earth, which publishes pictures taken by a range of satellites.

On October 23, after cobbling together a series of images dating back to October 13, NASA declared there were “signs of an eruption on Heard Island”.

It then stated:

“Although not definitive, this natural-color satellite image also suggests an ongoing eruption. The dark summit crater - much darker than Mawson [Peak]’s shaded southwestern face - is at least partially snow-free.

“There is also a faint hint of an even darker area - perhaps a lava flow - within. Shortwave infrared data shows hot surfaces within the crater, indicating the presence of lava in or just beneath the crater. Heavy cloud cover camouflaged what may have been a plume that erupted less than an hour after the image above was captured.”

Now you might think someone would have worked out by now whether there was in fact an eruption and whether that eruption is still happening. Well, not necessarily.

Not only is Heard Island uninhabited, but its unremarkable fauna and flora mean that it is often years between scientific visits.

No one is there, almost nobody is nearby, and pretty much no one cares whether one of the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory is blowing its top.

Except, of course, the penguins, who as you read this may well be lava-surfing using seals as surfboards.

Or not.


Fossils of First Feathered Dinosaurs from North America Discovered: Clues On Early Wing Uses


This is an artistic reconstruction of feathered ornithomimid dinosaurs found in Alberta. (Credit: Julius Csotonyi)
ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2012) — The ostrich-like dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park movie were portrayed as a herd of scaly, fleet-footed animals being chased by a ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex. New research published in the journal Science reveals this depiction of these bird-mimic dinosaurs is not entirely accurate -- the ornithomimids, as they are scientifically known, should have had feathers and wings.

The new study, led by paleontologists Darla Zelenitsky from the University of Calgary and François Therrien from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, describes the first ornithomimid specimens preserved with feathers, recovered from 75 million-year-old rocks in the badlands of Alberta, Canada.

"This is a really exciting discovery as it represents the first feathered dinosaur specimens found in the Western Hemisphere," says Zelenitsky, assistant professor at the University of Calgary and lead author of the study. "Furthermore, despite the many ornithomimid skeletons known, these specimens are also the first to reveal that ornithomimids were covered in feathers, like several other groups of theropod dinosaurs."

The researchers found evidence of feathers preserved with a juvenile and two adults skeletons of Ornithomimus, a dinosaur that belongs to the group known as ornithomimids. This discovery suggests that all ornithomimid dinosaurs would have had feathers.

The specimens reveal an interesting pattern of change in feathery plumage during the life of Ornithomimus. "This dinosaur was covered in down-like feathers throughout life, but only older individuals developed larger feathers on the arms, forming wing-like structures," says Zelenitsky. "This pattern differs from that seen in birds, where the wings generally develop very young, soon after hatching."

This discovery of early wings in dinosaurs too big to fly indicates the initial use of these structures was not for flight.

"The fact that wing-like forelimbs developed in more mature individuals suggests they were used only later in life, perhaps associated with reproductive behaviors like display or egg brooding," says Therrien, curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and co-author of the study.

Until now feathered dinosaur skeletons had been recovered almost exclusively from fine-grained rocks in China and Germany. "It was previously thought that feathered dinosaurs could only fossilize in muddy sediment deposited in quiet waters, such as the bottom of lakes and lagoons," says Therrien. "But the discovery of these ornithomimids in sandstone shows that feathered dinosaurs can also be preserved in rocks deposited by ancient flowing rivers."

Because sandstone is the type of rock that most commonly preserves dinosaur skeletons, the Canadian discoveries reveal great new potential for the recovery of feathered dinosaurs worldwide.
The fossils will be on display this fall at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Calgary.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. D. K. Zelenitsky, F. Therrien, G. M. Erickson, C. L. DeBuhr, Y. Kobayashi, D. A. Eberth, F. Hadfield. Feathered Non-Avian Dinosaurs from North America Provide Insight into Wing Origins. Science, 2012; 338 (6106): 510 DOI: 10.1126/science.1225376

University of Calgary (2012, October 25). Fossils of first feathered dinosaurs from North America discovered: Clues on early wing uses. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2012, from ­http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/10/121025150357.htm

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cut in half - Researchers document steep decline in chinstrap population at iconic site

Penguins on an island.
Photo Credit: ©Ron Naveen/Oceanites Inc.
Chinstrap penguins at Baily Head, Deception Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula. Researchers have documented at least a 50 percent decline in the population over the last 20 years. Various factors may be involved, but scientists don't believe tourism is a contributing factor.

An iconic chinstrap penguin colony on Deception Island, a popular stop for tourists to the Antarctic Peninsula, has declined by more than 50 percent in the last 25 years.

That’s the conclusion published last month in the journal Polar Biology by a team of researchers that spent 12 days in December 2011 counting individual penguin nests on the remote Antarctic island. The census found nearly 80,000 breeding pairs, with about 50,000 at a location called Baily Head.
The results were compared against a 1986-87 survey, refined with a simulation designed to capture uncertainty in the earlier population estimate by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) External Non-U.S. government site scientists.
It had already been known that the colony was in steady decline but no one had been able to quantify the plummet in population until now.

Patchy-looking island.
Photo Credit: ©Ron Naveen/Oceanites Inc.
An aerial view of chinstrap penguin colony at Baily Head, Deception Island.
Satellite image of an island.
Photo Credit: ©DigitalGlobe Inc.; Image provided by National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Commercial Imagery Program
A satellite image shows chinstrap penguin colonies at Baily Head, Deception Island, in 2003.
“It was really nice to be able to put a number on the decline, since so many people were tossing around estimates that were not based in data,” said Heather Lynch External Non-U.S. government site, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University External Non-U.S. government site and co-author on the paper. “Now we at least know exactly the status of Deception, which is important both scientifically and for tourism.”

There has been concern by nations party to the Antarctic Treaty System External Non-U.S. government site that the population crash at Baily Head was due largely to tourism. During the 2010-11 season, 1,354 tourists visited Baily Head, a massive amphitheater of breeding chinstrap penguins on the island’s eastern shore. The common name for Pygoscelis antarctica comes from the thin black line that runs around the penguin’s head.

However, the drop in the chinstrap population at Baily Head is consistent with population declines of the species at other locations, including sites that receive little or no tourism, according to Ron Naveen, founder of Oceanites Inc. External Non-U.S. government site, a nonprofit organization that since 1994 has conducted the Antarctic Site Inventory, an ongoing census of the seabird populations around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Previously, the researchers had published results from surveys of 29 chinstrap colonies that found significant declines at 16 sites and increases at only seven. Another one of the so-called brushtailed penguins, Adélie numbers are also crashing along the northwestern Antarctic Peninsula. The third brushtailed species, gentoos, appears to be increasing in numbers. [See previous story — The big picture: Broad-scale study suggests sea ice not driving changes in penguin populations.]

Pressures from climate change are believed to be hurting the Adélie and chinstrap colonies off the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have increased by about 3 degrees Celsius in the summer and almost double that in the winter. In particular, the Adélies rely on sea ice as a key habitat. And while subantarctic chinstraps aren’t as reliant on the seasonal pack ice, which is also shrinking in duration and extent, food sources such as krill graze on the algae that grow under the ice. Other factors may also be in play.

The team backed up its census data with a comparison of satellite imagery between the 2002-2003 and 2009-2010 summer seasons. During that seven-year period, the chinstrap population dropped by an estimated 39 percent, though there was a larger degree of uncertainty because of the difficulty involved in estimating nest density from the satellite imagery.

Chinstrap Penguin
Photo Credit: ©Ron Naveen/Oceanites Inc.
A chinstrap penguin at Baily Head, Deception Island.
Chinstrap adults with chick.
Photo Credit: ©Ron Naveen/Oceanites Inc.
Chinstrap penguin breeding pair with chick at Baily Head, Deception Island.
Chinstrap penguins walk up hill.
Photo Credit: ©Ron Naveen/Oceanites Inc.
Chinstrap penguins return to their nests from the small cove on the southwestern side of Baily Head, Deception Island.
“We do not yet have very sophisticated models for nesting density, but we are working on them, and these will fit nicely into everything we have developed to date and will allow us to shrink those error bars substantially,” Lynch said.

Despite the uncertainty, there was a remarkable correspondence between the field census and the satellite image counts, according to Lynch.

“The two census estimates were completed entirely independently using separate ‘pools’ of information,” she explained. “We were completely shocked at how close the two census estimates were to one another. I think this is a really incredible validation that the high-resolution satellite imagery can produce census data of the same quality as can be obtained in the field and, potentially, over a much larger scale.”

Lynch is a proponent of remote-sensing conservation, a growing field that uses satellite imagery to monitor wildlife populations. The technique has been used in the Antarctic to assess seal populations as well as penguin colonies. [See previous story — Eyes in the sky: Scientists use satellites to track health of seal, penguin populations in Antarctica.] She is also an advisory member of the Polar Geospatial Center (PGC) External U.S. government site, based at the University of Minnesota External Non-U.S. government site. PGC has access, through the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency External U.S. government site, to high-resolution commercial satellite imagery.
Fortunately, for seasoned and enthusiastic field hands like Naveen, there’s still a need to visit and census the animals on the ground.
“The reason that we were able to use the satellite imagery so successfully is because we have a lot of ground truthing data — density estimates, photo-documentation, personal experience — and as we start expanding this approach, our investment in regional-scale census work is going to pay major dividends,” Lynch said.

Of course, the fieldwork isn’t as romantic as it sounds. The 12-day stint on Deception Island was as much a function of nasty weather — persistent clouds, precipitation and at times gale-force winds — as the desire to fill in a key gap in the Oceanites dataset, according to Naveen.

“Deception [has] never been fully censused in one season, let alone 12 days. Unfortunately, the weather was such that we never left Deception,” he said. “I wanted to make sure we had those data in hand and this coming season we’ll be doing more ‘gap’-filling work.”

In 18 years, Oceanites teams have conducted more than 1,200 census visits at 169 locations over an area covering more than 100,000 square kilometers. Naveen said he is eager to continue the census work, especially with the more sophisticated analytical tools employed by Lynch and her lab.
“Assessing and analyzing the changes now occurring in the peninsula is an engrossing and thoroughly complex undertaking,” he said. “The statistics and photo-analytical resources we have available, and the new ones that we’re developing, particularly in regard to using satellite photo-documentation … will give all of us a better understanding of what’s driving change in the vastly warming peninsula ecosystem.”


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ecologists Start New Antarctic Season Comparing Animals' Handling of Adversity

A mother Weddell seal with her pup in front of Mt. Erebus in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The tagged mother and pup are both part of MSU's long-term study of population dynamics in Weddell seals in Erebus Bay, Antarctica. (Credit: Photo by Jay Rotella, ecology department, Montana State University)
ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2012) — Montana State University ecologists who are about to return to Antarctica for another season had to adapt to dramatic changes in the sea ice last year.

Now they have published a paper that says the Weddell seals they monitor had to deal with some dramatic changes in ice in recent years, too. In fact, the seals handled the adverse conditions well and suffered less than the Emperor penguins in that region.

The paper was published Sept. 26 in the international journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Lead author was Thierry Chambert, a doctoral student supervised by co-authors Bob Garrott and Jay Rotella in the MSU ecology department. Rotella and Garrott have just received a National Science Foundation grant for $867,272 that will extend their long-term study by five more years.

Last year, the researchers encountered unusually thin ice that was three feet thick instead of the usual 12 to 16 feet, Garrott said. Large cracks and active breaks threatened snowmobile travel. As a result, the faculty members and students moved their base camp to a safer spot and set up emergency camps around their study area. When they couldn't cross the ice on snowmobiles, they flew by helicopter.
In the course of their work, Rotella said the researchers saw how the Weddell seals faced their own challenges from massive icebergs that broke off and dramatically changed sea-ice conditions in a number of recent years.

Using data from 29 years, the team was able to compare seal numbers, as well as rates of pup production and adult survival, from before, during, and after the iceberg event, to learn how the seals fared. The number of seals they observed and the number of pups that were born during the peak of the iceberg event were down to unprecedented low numbers, but monitoring showed that, "the seals, in fact, handled the event quite well," Rotella said.

He explained that the seals were able to maintain high survival rates by lowering their breeding efforts during the years of iceberg presence. They tended to avoid breeding colonies when sea-ice conditions were particularly unfavorable.

The Emperor penguins, however, continued their normal activities during the worst of the iceberg event. The result was dramatic with dying penguins, as well as breeding failures, Rotella said. He noted that moving ice crushed eggs and even some adults at the peak of the iceberg event. Exhaustion and starvation might also have been an issue for penguins that walked across the ice from open water to their nesting colonies.

"These results reveal that, depending on their ecology, different species can suffer different impacts from an extreme environmental disturbance," said Rotella, the new leader of the Weddell seal study.
"The results also reveal the importance of having long-term data to evaluate possible effects," Rotella continued. "Without the data, we couldn't have known whether this extreme environmental event had extreme consequences for the seals or not. Fortunately for the seals, it did not. We learned that the seals were quite capable of riding out the massive changes in ice conditions as long as they didn't persist too long."

Rotella said the relationship between thinner ice and icebergs is outside of his field of expertise, but he said that ice provides protection from predators like orcas and leopard seals. It also serves as a platform for Weddell seals in the first few weeks of their lives when they have little fat for staying warm in the water and can't swim well yet. When the ice is thinner, predators have better access to the breeding areas used by penguins and Weddell seals for rearing their young. It is also easier for storms to shatter the ice sheets and for the area to have open water.

No one knows what this season will bring for sea-ice conditions, but the MSU researchers said they hope it isn't a repeat of last year.

"That was very challenging," Garrott said. "We really don't know what the ice conditions are like this year until we get down there."

This year's field season will run from about Oct. 10 to mid-December, with Rotella going down for the first half of the season and Garrott for the second half. Mary Lynn Price, a video journalist who has joined the group for the past two seasons, will be there for three weeks in the middle, with her stay overlapping Rotella's and Garrott's.

Price will again produce a variety of videos and other materials that will be available to the public.
This will be the 45th season for the study that Garrott and Rotella took over around 2001 from Don Siniff at the University of Minnesota. Initiated by Siniff, the study is one of the longer running animal population studies and the longest marine mammal study in the southern hemisphere. It not only focuses on changes in the Weddell seal population, but it yields broader information about the workings of the marine environment. The study incorporates information on sea ice, fish, ecosystem dynamics, climate change, and even the Antarctic toothfish, which is marketed in U.S. restaurants as Chilean sea bass.

The MSU study concentrates on pups and adult breeding females that live in the Ross Sea, which is the most pristine ocean left in the world and the only marine system whose top predators -- including the Weddell seal -- still flourish.

The researchers start the season by weighing and tagging every pup when it's about two days old. Later in the season, they visit every colony in their study, collecting genetic samples and recording every tag they find. Weddell seals are relatively gentle for being a top predator in the ecosystem, but they can weigh over 1,000 pounds and have a set of teeth like a bear's, Garrott has said in the past.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Montana State University.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. T. Chambert, J. J. Rotella, R. A. Garrott. Environmental extremes versus ecological extremes: impact of a massive iceberg on the population dynamics of a high-level Antarctic marine predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1733

Montana State University (2012, October 3). Ecologists start new Antarctic season comparing animals' handling of adversity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/10/121003132414.htm

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Penguins face a slippery future

Jeremy Hance
September 26, 2012

Adelie penguins hunting for food. Photo by: J. Weller. Click to enlarge.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu will be speaking at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 13th, 2012.

Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises. Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk. Now, a young organization, the Global Penguin Society (GPS), is working to save all of the world's 18 penguin species by working with scientists, governments, and local communities.

"Penguins are telling us a story that we need to hear: 11 of the 18 species of penguins are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered by IUCN," Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, the President of the Global Penguin Society, told mongabay.com in a recent interview. "Penguins have particular life history traits that make them vulnerable to environmental changes. They are flightless Southern Hemisphere birds. They are long-lived, lay one or two eggs, and take several months to raise their offspring. They breed in colonies, and depend on marine food sources that are spatially and temporarily unpredictable."

These factors make penguins not only extremely sensitive to large-scale environmental changes, but also key species for monitoring the overall health of oceans. Declines among many of the penguin species over recent decades have followed wider problems in the oceans.

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins in the background. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins in the background. Photo courtesy of GPS.
"Large-scale industrial fisheries starting in the mid 20th Century removed enormous numbers of fish from the Southern Oceans. Some prey species for Sub-Antarctic penguins, such as mackerel icefish are 10 percent of their population size prior to fishing. Commercial fishing has also reduced the carrying capacity of the Benguela ecosystem for penguins to only 10 to 20 percent of what it was in the 1920s, and hence it is not a surprise that African penguins declined by 90 percent," Borboroglu notes.

On top of overfishing, oil spills have pummeled a number of penguin species year-after-year, including African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). Other species have also been hurt by less common spill incidents, such as the spill that oiled thousands of northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) last year in the remote Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Oil spills have resulted in dramatic, in some cases, unprecedented rescue efforts, but even surviving birds suffer from reproduction problems due to the pollution.

Finally, climate change is, according to Borboroglu, "creating penguin winners and losers." Increasing and worsening El Niño conditions due to climate change could push the Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) to extinction within a century. Meanwhile, Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) may end up losing out if a warmer world means less krill in their feeding grounds as predicted. Emperor penguins could face problems due to a lack of shore ice needed for breeding. While two penguins, the King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) and Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), appear to be currently benefitting from climate change due to habitat expansion.

But despite these two "winners" the general picture of the world's penguins is one of rapid and alarming decline. Sixty-one percent of penguins are considered threatened with extinction, and if the IUCN's Near Threatened category is included, the percentage jumps to 83 percent. Borboroglu sees this as evidence of the wider crisis facing the world's oceans.

"Ocean conservation is crucial to life in the sea, the land, and to the quality of human life," he says, adding that, "we are living in an unprecedented age of modifications to marine systems."

But according to Borboroglu, penguins not only show us problems in our marine ecosystems, but can also help lead to positive action—if only people wake up the penguin's plight.

"As charismatic, keystone, and seascape species, penguins can foster public and political support for integrated ocean conservation," he notes. This is where GPS comes in, aiding efforts to conserve penguins through working directly with governments on creating protected areas and improving management; helping craft conservation plans and conducting research with other experts; and providing local education through field trips, lectures, and a new, comprehensive book coming out this winter: Penguins: Natural History and Conservation.

In a September 2012 interview, Pablo Garcia Borboroglu discusses the threats facing penguins worldwide, the many solution necessary to make sure penguins don't vanish, and how the Global Penguin Society is contributing to this mission.

Borboroglu will be presenting at the up-coming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 13th, 2012, an event which will be headed by Charles Knowles and Dr. Jean-Gael Collomb.


Gentoo penguin on a beach. Photo by: J. Weller.
Gentoo penguin on a beach. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: What drew you to penguins?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: When I was 2-3 years old I lived in a city in Argentina where there were no penguins. But my grandmother used to tell me about the penguins of Patagonia and for me it was something really magical. I think her passionate description of the penguin colonies left a special message in my memory.

Later, as a teenager, I decided to become an ambassador. To do so in Argentina, you have to become a lawyer first. So I studied languages (English and French) and laws for 2 years, but I did not like it that much. Therefore I moved to Patagonia for the summer and I started working in a travel agency. In those years (80s) there were a very large numbers of oiled penguins found along the beach and 40,000 died annually from pollution. I felt really shocked by this problem and started picking up oiled live penguins and set up and emergency station in a farm where I used to rehabilitate them. Working as a tour guide for foreign tourists, I learned a lot about wildlife, particularly penguins, and I realized that I could transmit a conservation message to a lot of people. So I decided to study biology at the University and after that I completed my Ph.D. working on ecology, management and the conservation of seabirds. Throughout these periods I kept working on penguin science and conservation.


King penguins. Photo by: J. Weller.
King penguins. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: One rarely hears about how endangered penguins are as compared to other species like big cats or rhinos. Why do you think that is?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: That is absolutely true, people love penguins but they are unaware of their decline. So it is not a matter of charisma.

I guess one reason is that big cats and rhinos face threats that are more tangible and direct for humans, like hunting for instance. Besides, most of their conservation problems are on land and people can see them. In the case of penguins, most threats are not necessarily visible and concrete. For example, lack of food availability in the ocean, change in oceanographic conditions caused by climate change, and pollution in remote areas.

I think it also has something to do with the image of penguins broadcast in mainstream media. Typically images show colonies of particular species in Antarctica, with hundreds of animals, like the Emperor penguin. Since there is no vegetation and they nest in dense aggregations people perceive there are a lot of penguins. Besides, many documentary films or movies always show the funny and amusing part of penguins but not necessarily their conservation status. This issue related with communication is also reflected in the fact that most people think that penguins only live on the ice in the South Pole, and they ignore that most species live in temperate regions and even above the Equator line.

Mongabay: More than half of all penguin species are currently threatened with extinction. What happened to the world's penguins? What are the biggest threats to penguins today?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Ocean conservation is fundamental to assure that ecosystems function while humanity and other living forms thrive. Unfortunately, we have initiated an unprecedented age of alterations to marine and coastal environments. Penguins are particularly affected by these phenomena. As top predators, penguins are key constituents of marine ecosystems, and as such are indicators of the oceanic and coastal ecosystem health. Penguins are telling us a story that we need to hear: 11 of the 18 species of penguins are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered by IUCN.

Magellanic penguin furnishing nest. Photo by: W. Conway.

Magellanic penguin furnishing nest. Photo by: W. Conway.
Penguins have particular life history traits that make them vulnerable to environmental changes. They are flightless Southern Hemisphere birds. They are long-lived, lay one or two eggs, and take several months to raise their offspring. They breed in colonies, and depend on marine food sources that are spatially and temporarily unpredictable. Penguins also make use of very wide geographical areas in the ocean while foraging and during wintering migrations. As a consequence, they are particularly vulnerable to variations in ecosystem structure and processes, caused mainly by climate change, marine pollution, and extensive overfishing.

In addition, penguins are among the most conspicuous victims of marine pollution. They are particularly sensitive to petroleum spills because they swim low in the water, surface regularly to breathe, do not fly and are less able to avoid petroleum than other seabirds. Mortality of penguins from accidental and chronic petroleum discharge is a both long-term and large-scale problem, having killed thousands of penguins in Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand, and even Antarctica. The African penguin populations, in particular, have been devastated by this threat, in combination with guano harvest, egging, and fishing, showing a decline from 1.5 million a hundred years ago to 25,000 pairs today. Approximately 40,000 Magellanic penguins were killed each year by oil pollution within their breeding range in Argentina in the 1980s and there are at least 25 organizations in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina dedicated to washing oiled penguins. Current trends in the economy of the countries where penguins breed or migrate indicate an exponential increase in petroleum development suggesting that the risk of petroleum spills will only increase.

Fisheries are also a threat to penguins. Large-scale industrial fisheries starting in the mid 20th Century removed enormous numbers of fish from the Southern Oceans. Some prey species for Sub-Antarctic penguins, such as mackerel icefish are 10 percent of their population size prior to fishing. Commercial fishing has also reduced the carrying capacity of the Benguela ecosystem for penguins to only 10 to 20 percent of what it was in the 1920s, and hence it is not a surprise that African penguins declined by 90 percent. Fishing for anchovy in the Pacific Ocean contributed to the tremendous decrease of Humboldt penguin from a million in the 1930s to less than 30,000 now. Expanding fisheries in the Southwest Atlantic will increasingly compete with Magellanic penguins. As prey continues to be reduced by commercial fishing, and climate perturbation becomes more common, penguin colonies will be harmed.

Currently, some species of penguins face hazards within their colonies related to inadequate management of human activities, such as egging, irresponsible tourism, coastal development, and introduced predators.

To what extent is the condition of the marine environment mirrored by penguin populations’ conservation status? Penguins use a wide range of marine habitats covering hundreds and even thousands of kilometers in their foraging and wintering migrations. Therefore, they cover a relatively large portion of the vast Southern Oceans. As ocean samplers, they can serve as cost-effective indicators of the health of the oceans they inhabit, allowing us to have a better scientific insight into the nature, magnitude and location of priority marine conservation issues to address.

Mongabay: What changes are needed for global fisheries to ensure penguins have enough food? How do we ensure protection at penguin foraging areas?

Penguin drowned by fishing net. Photo by: D. Boersma.
Penguin drowned by fishing net. Photo by: D. Boersma.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The negative effects of fisheries on penguin populations vary depending on the species and the area.

For example, with the African penguin the large, more recent decline seems to be related to decreased prey availability in part due to competition with industrial fisheries for food and the eastward shift in prey abundance. This shift could be the consequence of climate change and also overfishing. In South Africa the existing marine reserves may be too small or may need to be re-designed to produce a positive impact on the recovery of the population. In the case of the Humboldt penguin, the decrease in abundance has been linked to overfishing, direct take of birds and eggs for human consumption as well as for bait, and habitat degradation due to guano harvesting. Prey availability has been suggested as the main impact limiting the growth of the population. To benefit penguins and many other organisms, it is necessary to implement an ecosystem-based management of the anchovy fishery.

There are other cases, like the yellow-eyed penguin, where entanglement in fishing gear seems to be an important cause of mortality, but there is a need to conduct more studies to assess the real magnitude and nature of the problem.

In general, it is necessary to create or expand no-fishing zones around major rookeries. To be able to stabilize or recover some penguin populations it would be important to implement additional measures in already existing protected areas. In some regions it is also imperative to implement serious recommendations made to achieve a real ecosystem-based fishery management where the demands of the penguins (and other top and meso-predators) are considered in calculating the fish total allowable catches.

We have participated in a statement coordinated by the Pew Environmental Group to submit recommendations to the Marine Stewardship Council regarding the certification of krill fishery in Antarctica to improve fishing management and practices.

Mongabay: The drive for fossil fuels is also imperiling penguin populations. Will you tell us about how oil pollution is imperiling Magellanic penguins?

Oiled Magellanic penguins.  Photo by: D. Boersma.
Oiled Magellanic penguins. Photo by: D. Boersma.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Oiling of penguins is likely a common problem wherever tankers and penguins mix. One of the best documentations of how vulnerable penguins are to petroleum discharge is the chronic pollution problems along the coast of Argentina. For decades chronic oil pollution killed Magellanic penguins in Argentina and more recently has been documented as a problem in Brazil. It was estimated that over 40,000 Magellanic penguins were killed each year by chronic oil pollution along the coast of Chubut Province, Argentina, from 1982 to 1991. In 1994 tanker lanes were moved 100 km farther offshore, and few penguins are now found dead with petroleum along the Chubut coast.

Magellanic penguins migrate between Argentina and Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean on routes that overlap with heavy maritime traffic and petroleum development. Twenty-five groups from Salvador, Brazil to San Antonio Oeste, Argentina survey or rehabilitate sick or oiled seabirds. An average of 63.7 percent of the seabirds found were Magellanic penguins, with 3,869 reported since 1987. Mainly adult penguins were found in Argentina (1,605 of 2102 penguins of known age class) and Uruguay (158 of 197). Juveniles were most common in Brazil (234 of 325). Oil fouling was the most frequent cause of injury or sickness.

In long-lived seabirds such as penguins, that mature late and lay small clutches, even small decreases in adult survival can cause populations to decline. In addition, even small amounts of petroleum reduce reproductive success in penguins. The large number of adult penguins affected by chronic oil pollution in their wintering range suggests that this problem will have to be ameliorated before populations of Magellanic penguins rebound at their breeding colonies.

The number of oiled penguins reported in their wintering range has greatly increased since the early 1990s and is strongly correlated with petroleum exports from Argentina.

Regulations and enforcement are failing to protect living resources. We conclude that governments are failing to adequately protect penguins from petroleum pollution in the Southwest Atlantic. We need to enforce the national and international regulations that prohibit oil discharge and create more incentives to reduce both accidental and intentional oil spills.

Mongabay: If climate change isn't dealt with what will that mean for the world's penguin species?

Spot the penguin! A single Adelie penguin on pack ice. Photo by: J. Weller.
Spot the penguin! A single Adelie penguin on pack ice. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Climate change is suggested as one of the main causes of decline of many penguin species. It results in changes in sea ice cover and timing as well as key oceanographic characteristics such as surface temperature, upwelling, circulation, and seawater acidity. All of these factors can change prey availability affecting the abundance, nutritional quality and species composition of food for penguins.

Climate change is creating penguin winners and losers. Climate change is apparently already a major factor in the decline of four species. Two species, the King and Gentoo, have benefited by expanding their range south. Others like the Galapagos, African, and Humboldt penguins are losers because of the increased frequency or intensity of environmental events such as El Niño. Chinstrap and Adelie penguin in the Antarctic Peninsula depend on krill. Krill winter under ice where they can feed on algae. The melting of ice decreases krill survival and their abundance plummets. Climate warming is predicted to be highest at high latitudes where it has already caused Chinstrap and Adelie penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula to decline. Warming will also likely remove breeding habitat for Emperor penguins. Early break-up of shore ice, where Emperor penguins breed, can cause complete reproductive failure for the colony. Lack of ice may also result in problems finding a site to molt for ice-associated penguins.

Increased rainfall coupled with a cold wind can kill chicks that historically grew up in a dry desert climate on the coast of Peru, Argentina, South Africa or a sub-Antarctic island. The losers in climate change are not only temperate species. From the Galapagos to the Antarctic, climate change will likely have a negative impact on the breeding success of penguins. Rainfall increases in deserts and rain instead of snow in the Antarctic, depending on when it occurs, lowers penguin reproductive success.

Some of the best-documented signals of regional warming come from the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). In the WAP, the mean winter air temperature has risen more rapidly (6 degrees Celsius since 1950) than anywhere else in the world. Reduction in winter sea-ice cover caused shifts in penguin abundance and distribution.

One of the predicted results of climate warming is an increase in the frequency and severity of normal environmental events such as El Niño. The first seabird reported to show the biological effects of El Niño farther west than the South American coast was the Galápagos penguin. El Niño, with its warm, unproductive waters, caused adult Galápagos penguins to desert their eggs and chicks to search for food to save themselves while their chicks starved to death. Galápagos penguin populations are now about 25% of what they were in the 1970s. After the 1982–1983 and 1997–1998 events, Galápagos penguins declined by more than 65%. Using population viability analyses, researchers estimate that the chance of Galápagos penguins’ becoming extinct in the next 100 years is 30% without assuming more frequent and more severe El Niños.

Climate change is a large temporal scale problem. Improving the resiliency of penguins is the main goal to secure penguin populations.

Mongabay: Do you support efforts to safeguard much of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean from commercial fisheries? Are current fisheries imperiling penguin populations there?

Adelie penguin jumping out of the water. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie penguin jumping out of the water. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The main problem for penguins caused by commercial fisheries in Antarctica is related to forage fish, which are mainly exploited for use in fishmeal, fish oil, and for direct consumption.

Forage species often serve an important and unique role in marine ecosystems. As small, plankton-feeding pelagic fishes and crustaceans, forage species are prey for other fishes, marine mammals and seabirds, transferring energy from plankton to these higher trophic levels. Forage species thus maintain energy flow through ecosystems and can regulate overall trophic dynamics. Reduction in forage species availability therefore can negatively impact predators and ecosystems. In most systems, only a few forage species occur, so ecosystems may not be resilient to forage species removal. Forage fisheries must therefore be managed under a regime that accounts for the dynamics of the target stock, its predators and prey, and climate-forcing. Management must be precautionary and adaptive, and requires an ecosystem approach.

In the Southern Ocean ecosystem, Antarctic krill is one of the main forage fish species. It serves as the prey base for fishes, birds and marine mammals. Sea ice density, climate, and oceanography affect krill population dynamics. Climate change will impact the dynamics of krill and their predators as will fishing and the combination of the two factors.

Fishing and foraging ranges overlap in some areas. Predators can be geographically constrained (e.g,. land-based breeding colonies of marine mammals and seabirds) and depend upon localized sources of krill. A recent study indicates that spatially concentrated harvest already occurs. Spatial management should limit fishing in some areas where predators feed.


Adelie swimming. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie swimming. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: You're President of the Global Penguin Society. What makes this organization unique?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Ocean conservation is crucial to life in the sea, the land, and to the quality of human life. We are living in an unprecedented age of modifications to marine systems. Penguins are particularly impacted by these phenomena: the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listes 60% of penguin species as Vulnerable or Endangered. Variations in ecosystem structure, processes, and productivity, caused mainly by climate change, pollution, and overfishing have impoverished living marine systems. Penguins are sensitive to these changes, and can reflect the status of oceans, providing information about the nature, magnitude, and location of priority conservation issues.

Penguins can also increase awareness of ocean health, making us reconsider our policies and behaviors. As charismatic, keystone, and seascape species, penguins can foster public and political support for integrated ocean conservation. However, there is no international organization directed toward penguin conservation.

The goal of the Global Penguin Society (GPS) is to promote the protection of penguin populations, through science, management and education, developing and advocating solutions for sustainable marine activities and management. Penguin research and conservation group efforts are being integrated synergistically into this coalition to speed up ocean conservation efforts. This coalition promotes science-based conservation, educates and advises governments and communities, influences policies, and campaigns through the media to educate people on how to improve both penguins’ and peoples’ quality of life.

Emperor penguin chick. Photo by: J. Weller.

Emperor penguin chick. Photo by: J. Weller.
The Society fosters the production and use of the good science needed for the conservation and adequate management of penguins and marine environments at local, regional, and global scales. To improve management, GPS uses science to educate communities, decision makers and provide recommendations for policy makers. The Society extends this impact by forming partnerships to meet common goals, integrating many isolated conservation and research groups into a team, working synergistically. GPS will be an international forum for conservation NGOs, academic and research institutions, individual projects, local communities and other partners to work together strategically for the conservation of penguins and oceans.

The coalition makes penguin conservation a global issue, but focuses at a local level. It develops an international cooperative team for better stewardship of the ocean, aligning the expertise of marine conservation leaders and penguin researchers and fostering the accumulation and use of knowledge and experience. Working as a learning network, we can share lessons extracted from similar local problems among different countries. For instance, the estimation and implementation methods of visitors carrying capacity has been solved for colonies in Australia, but continues to be a problem for South American penguin species. Lessons learned from other key management actions in colonies opened for tourism or the design of effective contingency plans for oil spills or fires can also be shared.

The existence of this international coalition provides a solid position when communicating concerns, submitting demands or negotiating solutions. One aim is to increase the effectiveness of local groups and individuals by linking them to similar efforts in other parts of the world. Isolated groups are also supported by the Global Penguin Society.

Science is extremely necessary, but in some cases it is not sufficient by itself to fix conservation problems. Most environmental problems have social roots, and the answers will only be found in the social arena. We need to increase awareness of what is happening to the ocean to catalyse changes in people´s behavior.

Unmistakably, penguins are a perfect tool to inspire major changes in actions and choices of individuals, of businesses, of governments, and of the international community. Penguins can create public and political interest and generate support; they can be a vehicle for integrated ocean conservation, and allow the protection of many other marine species and their habitats through ecosystem-based marine conservation planning. However, strategy, synergy and integration are lacking. GPS seeks to provide direction and action in this endeavour, because people care about penguins and the problems are often well documented, but the absence of integration and unified vision limits the scope of conservation achievements.

Mongabay: What are the group's biggest accomplishments so far?

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins. Photo courtesy of GPS.
Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu:

• New Book called Penguins: Natural History and Conservation: The book will be a remarkable product and a longtime contribution for the science, conservation and awareness of penguions in the international community. The effort made is reflected in the quality of the content. This book is a symbol of the integration we wanted to achieve within the penguin conservation world. The book will be a source of highly credible information about penguins. It will provide academics, conservation groups, NGOs and decision-makers will have a trust worthy source of information and recommendations.

• Discovery and protection of a new penguin colony (El Pedral, Patagonia): mo more penguin are killed there and habitat is protected from damage. We discovered El Pedral, conducted research, designed its management plan, implemented a protection proposal, and generated a sustainable tourism operation.

• The South African government invited us to contribute to the Management Plan of the Endangered African penguin. They also asked us for permission to use our book chapter on that species for their plan’s base document.

• Design and launching of our website: we have visitors from 71 countries and penguin conservation groups from all over send us material very frequently for publishing.

• Penguins meet the neighbor kids: taking the kids that live close to penguin colonies in Argentina and South Africa to visit penguins for the first time and learn about penguins and ocean conservation needs. Only 15% of the kids had visited the penguins before.

• Fourteen newspaper articles including The Washington Post and The Boston Globe (U.S.A.), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) , Folhas de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Clarin, Jornada, Diario de Madryn and Chubut (Argentina). Six Interviews on national and regional TV stations and several radio program participation.

• Five scientific papers were published in international journals: Research Priorities for Seabirds: improving seabird conservation and management in the 21st Century / Endangered Species Research; Magellanic Penguin Mortality in 2008 in Brazil / Marine Pollution Bulletin; Feather Loss disorder in African and Magellanic penguins / Waterbirds; Magellanic penguins in Patagonia: Conservation and management challenges / New Zealand Journal of Zoology.

Progress on specific goals:

Borboroglu accepting the Whitely Award in 2010. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu accepting the Whitely Award in 2010. Photo courtesy of GPS.
1) The Global Penguin Society (GPS) was founded in 2009. Since then we have met and engaged key people and organizations related to penguin conservation and research in different countries (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile). We held meetings and workshops and organized or participated in events to strengthen GPS. For example in 2009 we were the plenary speaker at the Oamaru Penguin conservation symposium on New Zealand penguins; in 2010 we attended the workshop to design the Management Plan for the endangered African penguin; in 2010 we held a World Penguin Conservation Symposium at the International Penguin Conference in Boston; and in 2011, together with Pew Environmental Group, we organized a Penguin conservation status Symposium at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada.

We also involved 56 researchers in of the book: PENGUINS: Natural History and Conservation. Some of the institutions included in our activities are: the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Cape Town, University of Otago, Univ of Maryland, University of Washington, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (France), Australian Antarctic Division, Antarctic Research Trust (Germany), Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources of Namibia, Phillip Island Nature Parks (Australia), The Peregrine Fund, Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park (Ecuador), Universidad Cayetano Heredia (Peru), etc.

2) Creation of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group. IUCN specialist groups represent the highest level of scientific rigor and credibility with regards to conservation. We made very good progress to reach the goal of creating a specialist group for penguins. We have met with the IUCN General Director and other major authorities in Switzerland, and with authorities of the Species Survival Commission in Cambridge to get started in the process of creating this group.

3) Compile updated information for all penguin species. We accomplished this goal by editing the book mentioned above, that will be printed by University of Washington Press and will be available in English, Spanish and Japanese. It will have 400 full colour pages divided into 18 chapters with 190 figures and 89 tables. All 56 authors provided the most up-to-date information. Main section include diagnostic characteristics, distribution, population size and trends, threats, research gaps and needs, current conservation efforts and conservation priorities. The book will be available to order in mid-November.

4) Discuss a Global Penguin Conservation Strategy. We organized a Penguin Status conservation Symposium in Boston where experts presented the status of all penguin species. We coordinated meetings to discuss conservation priorities. Another joint presentation was done at the World Seabird Conference in Victoria together with leading authors.

In the book there are four sections on each penguin species that refer to this conservation strategy: Main threats, Recommendations of priority research actions for conservation, Current Conservation Efforts, and Recommendations of priority conservation actions.

5) Collaborate with and formulate advice for governments based on scientific, technical and empirical evidence, aiming at influencing decisions and policies. The coalition will formally offer assistance to governments. Such as:

Punta Tombo Advisory Management Commission: We fostered the creation and coordination of an Advisory Management Committee by the Provincial Government. We interested the administration in the creation of a marine protected area adjacent to Punta Tombo.

El Pedral Colony: During our research with penguins we discovered a new Magellanic penguin colony. However, the site selected by the first 13 penguins pairs was far from pristine. Unregulated recreational activities took place there, with fishermen and visitors leaving garbage all around and setting on fire bushes, where penguins nest, to make barbecues. Moreover, people with 4-wheel trucks and motorbikes crossed the area not paying attention to the nests. The fate and persistence of this colony depended on our ability to improve their habitat and design and implement an adequate management of human activities. We coordinated a multisectorial management plan for the area and submitted the application for its designation as Provincial Wildlife Refuge, which was approved. Now penguins are protected and we designed a very restricted touristic operation. The colony grew from 13 original nests in 2009 to 176 nests in 2011. This is now a model for a changing ocean environmental scenario that fosters the movements of species to areas where they never occurred before.

New Marine National Park at San Jorge Gulf, Argentina: We participated in meetings and workshops on the management of this park located in Central Patagonia that were organized by the National Government of Argentina.

We have also interacted with the Department of Conservation of New Zealand in a workshop about the Fiordland penguin. We submitted letters of concern to the National Government of Chile regarding their plans to build thermal power plants within a major Humboldt penguin breeding area. Wewere also involved in the design of a management plan for penguin colonies in Southern Chile (Magellanic National Park, Cape Horn) and Central Chile ( Region ed Los Lagos), where we facilitated material form management plans from Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Finally, we intervened with the Ambassador of Uruguay in Japan to avoid the purchase of wild penguins for an Aquarium in Tokio.

Borboroglu at meeting with IUCN. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu at meeting with IUCN. Photo courtesy of GPS.
6) Design effective communication strategies to reach specific audiences with clear messages. GPS has a website which contains information on what we do, who we are, goals, activities, updated information on all species of penguins in the world, and news. Launching announcements were made in Boston, New Zealand, SouthAfrica and Argentina.

GPS was the scientific advisor for the complete exhibits of the new Interpretation Center for Magellanic Penguins in the Province of Chubut, Argentina, where 130,000 visit the area per year.

7) Campaigning through the media in association with other worldwide conservation initiatives. This includes highlighting the power of individual responsibility to make a change for ocean conservation byway of penguins. GPS activities (including television documentary films) were covered by the media in Argentina and several countries: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, England, the Netherlands and the United States, among others.

8) Promote and help consolidate marine conservation initiatives, such as the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or other more appropriate marine conservation tools in the Southern Oceans.

To promote the designation of new marine protected areas we obtained critical information about penguin colonies along Patagonia, foraging areas (from satellite tracked penguins), and estimated abundance.

After succeeding in protecting the new colony at El Pedral, we are working to foster on the incorporation of a marine protected area to protect the foraging ground.

We are collaborating with the Government of Ecuador (Galapagos) to improve the breeding habitat for Galpagos penguins and we are assisting the government of Rio Negro Province (Argentina) in the research and protection of 3 penguin colonies recently settled in their coasts.

9) Foster the signature and implementation of multilateral agreements. Migration ranges often extend across borders of many countries, so we promote the generation of Regional Conventions for penguin conservation. Toward this end, we published an article in Marine Pollution Bulletin, about an extreme migration never reported historically, coupled with a mass mortality of Magellanic penguins during the winter 2008. We suggest that this mortality event may have resulted from a lack of prey related to a low sea surface temperature anomaly, potentially linked to climate variability. This paper complements a previous one we published in 2006, justifying the need to propose an international agreement between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil for this species.

Mongabay: How is the Global Penguin Society working to make people more aware of the precarious position for penguins?

Borboroglu giving presentation on penguins to school children. Photo courtesy of GPS.
Borboroglu giving presentation on penguins to school children. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The Global Penguin Society has an education program with several key activities designed to increase visibility for penguins:

1. We promote participatory processes where stakeholders are part of the design and implementation of community-based management plans or guidelines for penguin colonies.

2. We empower local communities by training them to generate sustainable incomes through ecotourism mainly in developing countries. We offer lectures to train local people to become tour guides, wardens and other roles related with ecotourism.

3. Communication is crucial to reach communities that coexist with penguins and involve them in deciding the fate of penguins. Sometimes there is less information and education of people near the resource than for people that live far from them. Both groups are needed, however, if penguins are to be conserved. We also target local education efforts at communities and schools near colonies so that the next generation will value, respect and protect penguins more.

Activities include:

• School trips for kids to visit nearby natural areas with penguins to teach them about their needs and value them more.

• Providing poor school libraries and low-income family kids with books about penguins, marine conservation and natural resources.

• Producing posters, leaflets and educational material for schools and general audiences.

4. Mainstream media participation: We broadcast project activities, findings and conservation concerns publishing popular articles in newspapers and magazines, participating in radio interviews and television programs to reach broader and discrete audiences. We already had press cover (TV, radio, newspapers and documentary films) in many countries: Argentina, Brazil, U.S.A., Mexico, U.S.A., Canada, Germany, Netherlands and France. We also share content on our website and Facebook pages.

5. Provide ideas and information to empower children and families who play Disney Club Penguin online. Millions of kids and their families interact with penguins when they are playing online. We offer information about penguins and suggest ideas and interesting pieces of information so that kids can learn about real penguin lives, their home habitat, lifestyles, tastes, and needs.

Mongabay: How could improving understanding of penguins' plight aid the health of the oceans altogether?

Adelie penguin on blue iceberg. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie penguin on blue iceberg. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The oceans are in trouble, and so are penguins. Many species of penguins are becoming more endangered and the increasing anthropogenic sources of mortality appear to be an important driving factor in their decline.

The Global Penguin Society works at different scales. Sometimes we deal with specific penguin colony management, and in other cases we work to improve the stewardship of anthropogenic activities in the ocean. In this last case, the benefits are seen in the marine ecosystem of interest and also by many other species. A typical example is the oil pollution problem that affects penguins. Penguins are hardy animals that can swim many kilometers in the ocean after they get oiled. Once they reach the coast they cannot go back to the ocean to feed by themselves, so they starve to death during weeks. People see them and they feel very sorry for them, so they want the problem to be solved for penguins. So, the charisma of penguins leads to improved management of some activities, such as oil development, which can also be helpful for the oceans in general and many other creatures.

Penguin Species


Erect-crested penguin ( Eudyptes sclateri)

Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)

Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

African penguin ( Spheniscus demersus)


Fiordland penguin (Eudyptes pachyrynchus)

Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)

Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Snares penguin (Eudyptes robustus)

Southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)

Near Threatened:

Gentoo penguin ( Pygoscelis papua)

Magellanic penguin ( Spheniscus magellanicus)

Emperor penguin ( Aptenodytes forsteri)

Adelie penguin ( Pygoscelis adeliae)

Least Concern:

Chinstrap penguin ( Pygoscelis antarctica)

King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Little penguin ( Eudyptula minor)